Rendon’s HB 5711 is the first bill in the state to roll so many abortion restrictions into one package, threatening to create serious barriers to abortion access for both abortion-seeking women and abortion providers in one fell swoop.
In Michigan, Republican State House Representative Bruce Rendon has introduced an anti-abortion “super bill”—one piece of legislation that includes protocol for screening women for coercion prior to an abortion, along with several TRAP laws including new liability insurance requirements for abortion providers, the regulation of abortion clinics as surgical facilities, and new restrictions on the disposal of fetal remains. The bill would also require the presence of a physician for medication abortion — a particularly damaging regulation in a state where 82 percent of counties have no abortion provider, and many women in rural areas rely on the safe and effective tele-med prescription of medical abortion.
Each of these new restrictions has already been proposed in a separate bill in the Michigan House and Senate; the hypocritical “anti-coercion” legislation, for example, has already passed through the House and is now awaiting a Senate vote. And a bill that would create new regulations on the disposal of fetal remains has been criticized for the potential trauma it would cause for women experiencing miscarriage. But Rendon’s HB 5711 is the first bill in the state to roll so many abortion restrictions into one package, threatening to create in one fell swoop serious barriers for both women in need of abortion care and abortion providers. Packaged with the bill, HB 5713 sets forth sentencing guidelines for violations of the new regulations, and also includes a prohibition on all abortions after 20 weeks in all cases except when it is necessary to save a life.
Additionally troubling is the speed at which HB 5711 appears to be moving through the legislative process. Many of Michigan’s anti-choice bills have languished for months without being brought before a committee; the Senate bill regarding the disposal of fetal remains was assigned to the committee on health policy back in October of 2011, a bill prohibiting the tele-med prescription of medical abortion has been awaiting an appearance before the same committee since last June. But HB 5711 was introduced on May 31st — ironically, and perhaps not coincidentally, the anniversary of Dr. Tiller’s assassination — and is already scheduled to be discussed by the House committee on health policy on Thursday, June 7th. It is likely that the Republican-majority committee will recommend the bill favorably, and that it will be rapidly headed for a House vote.
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Rep. Jason Dawkins (D-Philadelphia) said during the committee hearing that lawmakers had no place inserting themselves in a conversation between a pregnant person and a doctor. "If we put certain restrictions on a woman's choice, will they start looking for that other option?" Dawkins said.
Republicans in Pennsylvania are hurrying through the legislature a bill that would severely restrict abortion care, passing the bill through committee Monday without a public hearing—three days after its introduction.
HB 1948, sponsored by Rep. Kathy Rapp (R-Warren), would criminalize a common procedure used for second-trimester abortion care and ban abortion after 20 weeks’ gestation. Pennsylvania law today bans abortion care after 24 weeks’ gestation. Rapp, co-chair of the Pennsylvania House Pro-Life Caucus, was the primary sponsor of a failed 2012 bill that would have required those seeking an abortion to undergo a forced transvaginal ultrasound.
Jeff Sheridan, press secretary for Gov. Tom Wolf (D), said in a statement Monday that the governor would veto the anti-choice measure should it reach his desk.
The bill bans so-called dismemberment abortion, targeting the dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure that is commonly used after miscarriages and in second-trimester abortion care. The procedure is a method of abortion during which a physician will dilate a woman’s cervix and remove the fetus using forceps, clamps, or other instruments.
There were 32,126 abortions performed in Pennsylvania in 2014, and 2,377 of those (7.4 percent) were performed after the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, according to the state health department’s annual report.
A physician who performs the procedure would be guilty of a third-degree felony, which carries a penalty of up to seven years in prison and up to $15,000 in fines.
Susan Frietsche, senior staff attorney at the Women’s Law Project, told Rewire that anti-choice lawmakers are not using medical language, but rather political language, in their attempt to regulate the practice of medicine.
“One of the real difficulties of imprecise or vague statutes is that people who are trying to conform their conduct to be lawful don’t know what they’re supposed to do,” Frietsche said. “When you’re messing in [a] very technical and complex field of medicine and you’re a layperson, and you’re a legislature who is not a doctor, this can be a real hazardous undertaking.”
The bill includes an exception when the D and E procedure is necessary to prevent “either the death of the pregnant woman or the substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the woman.” There is no exception for rape, incest, or fetal anomaly.
Frietsche said that the exceptions in the bill are “labyrinthian and very burdensome” for physicians who provide abortion care.
The bill also carries an exception for abortion procedures that take place in a hospital. There were abortions performed at 18 hospitals and 19 non-hospital facilities during 2014, according to the state’s report.
The anti-choice Republican bill also bans the termination of a pregnancy in which the gestational age of the fetus is “at 20 or more weeks.”
The bill is set against the backdrop of a primary election, as state lawmakers campaign ahead of the April 26 vote.
Rep. Jason Dawkins (D-Philadelphia) said during the committee hearing that lawmakers had no place inserting themselves in a conversation between a pregnant person and a doctor. “If we put certain restrictions on a woman’s choice, will they start looking for that other option?” Dawkins said, reported the Associated Press.
The House Health Committee passed the measure with a vote of 16 to 10. The legislation now moves to the full state house for further action.
State legislatures are often referred to as the laboratories of democracy, and state lawmakers have for years experimented with a deluge of policies designed to restrict or outright ban access to reproductive health care.
State legislators in the first half of 2015 introduced more than 200 bills to restrict reproductive health care. By year’s end, 47 anti-choice laws had been enacted. Measures to expand mandatory waiting periods, ban abortion before viability, and shut down clinics were all passed in 2015, according to a report by the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Republican-majority legislatures are likely to continue to follow that trend during the 2016 legislative sessions, with GOP policymakers primed to introduce new ingredients into their anti-choice experiments.
Forty-six states will have legislative sessions in 2016. Most of those state legislatures go into session sometime in January, with a handful beginning their sessions in February. Louisiana and Minnesota begin their sessions in March, and Arkansas and North Carolina begin sessions in April.
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Republicans dominate state legislatures and governors’ offices. Republicans have control of both the state legislature and governor’s office in 23 states, while Democrats have control of both the state legislature and governor’s office in seven states. There are 19 states in which partisan control of the government is divided.
States to Watch
Anti-choice legislation has been introduced in every state legislature since 2011, but lawmakers in some states introduce a barrage of anti-choice bills during each legislative session.
Republicans in Missouri have introduced 22 anti-choice bills during the past two legislative sessions, and lawmakers have waged a legislative battle against the state’s only abortion clinic. The so-called Committee on the Sanctity of Life has been used as a cudgel by anti-choice lawmakers to attack Planned Parenthood’s funding and access to reproductive health care.
Missouri’s 2015 session begins January 6. State lawmakers have pre-filed at least seven bills to restrict reproductive rights. One bill would ban abortion “performed solely because of a prenatal diagnosis, test, or screening indicating Down Syndrome,” and another bill would restrict minors’ access to abortion care.
Lawmakers in Missouri have until January 6 to pre-file bills for the 2016 legislative session.
While most state legislatures convene in January, lawmakers in Louisiana will not begin their legislative session until March. The state has been one of the key fronts in the battle over reproductive rights and in recent years lawmakers have aggressively sought to restrict access to abortion.
Staunchly anti-choice Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is serving his last few days in office, and Democratic Governor-elect John Bel Edwards will soon take the oath of office. It is unclear if Edwards will be as hostile to abortion rights as Jindal, but Edwards campaigned on a series of anti-choice positions.
There are four state legislatures that do not have legislative sessions during 2016. Texas is the most notable of those states. Few states have had the kind of impact on reproductive rights as the Lone Star State. Not only have GOP lawmakers passed bills that have severely restricted access to reproductive health care—those bills have been replicated in other states.
While Texas lawmakers will not be able to make a direct impact on reproductive rights in 2016, one of the bills passed by Texas Republicans during the 2013 legislative session will be at the center of the most significant reproductive rights cases to come before the Supreme Court in the past two decades. The Roberts Court’s ruling on the challenge to Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law, HB 2, could impact access to abortion care in states around the country.
The most common type of anti-choice policies in state legislatures over the past several years has been targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP) bills. These bills single out abortion clinics and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to other types of clinics. TRAP bills have also been among the most successful proposals introduced by anti-choice lawmakers, having been passed by Republican-majority legislatures in several states.
Other types of restrictions on reproductive rights likely to be widely introduced, based on the pre-filed bills in multiple states, include bans on abortion based on the sex or race of the fetus, bans on abortion based on genetic abnormalities, including Down syndrome, mandatory waiting periods or forced counseling for women seeking abortions, and bans on insurance coverage of abortion care or bans on coverage of abortion care in the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges.
Undercover videos of Planned Parenthood employees, published by an anti-choice front group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), claimed the videos proved Planned Parenthood was illegally selling tissue from aborted fetuses. The videos gave anti-choice lawmakers in Congress and in Republican-controlled states political cover to conduct investigations into Planned Parenthood and propose new restrictions on abortion care.
CMP has worked closely with Republican legislators to launch political attacks against Planned Parenthood and cut off its state and federal funding.
While the investigations conducted in Congress and in multiple states have concluded that Planned Parenthood has not broken any state or federal fetal tissue donation laws, lawmakers are proposing new policies to restrict fetal tissue donation or create new regulations to govern the handling and disposal of fetal tissue.
A Missouri lawmaker pre-filed a bill that would prohibit any type of fetal tissue donation. SB 644, sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder (R), would create a ban on donating or making an “anatomical gift of the fetal organs and tissue resulting from an abortion to any person or entity for medical, scientific, experimental, therapeutic, or any other use.”
Another bill pre-filed by a lawmaker in Michigan would ban any financial compensation for fetal tissue donation. HB 5086, sponsored by Rep. John Bizon (R), would prohibit any person from knowingly financially benefiting from or receiving “any type of compensation for the distribution or transfer” of an the tissue, organs, or cells of an embryo or fetus “obtained as the result of an elective abortion.”
Lawmakers experimenting with bills to regulate how physicians provide abortion care created anti-choice Frankenstein legislation in the form of bans on “dismemberment” abortions. The bills, copies of legislation drafted by the National Right to Life Committee, would criminalize a medical procedure used after a miscarriage and during second-trimester abortions.
The bans target the dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, commonly used in second-trimester abortion care. The procedure is a method of abortion during which a physician will dilate a woman’s cervix and remove the fetus using forceps, clamps, or other instruments.
Lawmakers in both Michigan and Missouri have pre-filed bills to ban the D and E abortion procedure, and lawmakers in others states are likely to follow suit.